Paddy Davitt verdict: Norwich City ready to stand and trade in Premier League relegation scrap

Robbie Brady clipped an early free kick over but the Dubliner was Norwich City's match-winner in a 1

Robbie Brady clipped an early free kick over but the Dubliner was Norwich City's match-winner in a 1-0 Premier League success at West Brom. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

There was only one winner in the battle of the track suits as Norwich City finally seized the chance for Premier League advancement.

Alex Neil allowed himself a clenched fist in celebration as Tony Pulis skulked away on a day when the Canaries' planning and execution bore the hallmarks of a squad who had got the message.

Whether it was the perilous nature of Norwich's situation, the blossoming of a spine of key players or the sheer force of Neil's personality, City not only look an effective fighting force but have harnessed a formula to produce results.

This was no classic. It was never going to be, given Norwich's plight and an opponent who treats the ball as an enemy. Norwich arrived, fought for every inch of territory as they put their bodies on the line again, and departed with a win which not only renewed belief in these parts but unleashed fresh uncertainty amongst their relegation rivals.

A pulsating but ultimately frustrating 1-1 north-east derby draw for both Newcastle United and Sunderland on Sunday capped a gloriously uplifting weekend. But it is too early to state Norwich have turned a corner. City's chronic inconsistency gnaws away at any grounds for optimism.

Yet after a truly wretched spell, a period when Neil was questioned like at no other previous stage of his Norwich tenure, the respite should be savoured over this latest international break before that epic clash against Rafa Benitez's Magpies.

Newcastle must overcome a team who have kept two clean sheets on the spin and picked up a first win in 11. They must also subdue a home support who will generate a frenzied atmosphere buoyed by the growing conviction Norwich might just pull off the great escape.

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You can opine about a philosophy, about an identity, but there is a soothing stubbornness and pragmatism emerging from Neil's squad in the final straight. Norwich have played far better, been far more pleasing on the eye this season than against either Manchester City or West Brom, and trooped away from grounds bemused by their lack of points.

The parallels between the opening period at the Hawthorns and the recent trip to Swansea were uncanny, with neither side able to establish any level of superiority. The quality threshold was depressingly low, the tension palpable, the air heavy with anticipation and a sense of dread.

In Wales, Norwich paid a high price for a sluggish start to the second period as the hosts wrestled the initiative and repelled a late riposte that lacked any genuine belief. In truth it was the performance and mindset of a club hurtling towards the Football League.

Against the Baggies, Norwich made the breakthrough and surged in confidence. West Brom pounded away in their own inimitable style, with Rickie Lambert introduced alongside Solomon Rondon in a heavyweight front pairing, but Norwich's backline resisted stoutly.

The winner was entirely in keeping with the contest. Dieumerci Mbokani rolled in Matt Jarvis, who miscued wildly, but the ball squirmed kindly in the direction of Robbie Brady to slot from seven yards. It was a fortuitous goal to settle a forgettable affair but the celebrations at the final whistle underlined how important a staging post it might be.

Relief washed over Norwich's players as the vocal defiance from the away end reverberated around the Hawthorns. City's players lingered in front of their own supporters. You could hardly blame them savouring a win such a long time coming.

It was a euphoric outpouring but it is gone. It is in the past. All that matters now is Newcastle - less a game of football and more a supreme test of nerve.

Norwich's manager and his much-maligned players have displayed that quality in abundance since the turn of the year. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this revival is the residual belief contained inside the camp when all, bar the eternal optimists, had already started to pen the obituary. For that Neil must be feted.

Norwich may have come up short too often, made too many individual errors and paid for naivety in crucial moments but there has never been a lack of self-belief or a readiness to succumb and accept their fate. That instinct to fight, to stand and trade is why they have a genuine chance of survival.

Norwich have been bold rather than cautious, positive rather than negative, bullish rather than timid in this recent upturn and they have been rewarded.

The last two outings have been notable for that aggressiveness to their defending and a streetwise edge across midfield. The attacking punch remains elusive, but it is there, we have seen it against Liverpool and West Ham at Carrow Road since the turn of this year. We need to see it again when the Magpies head south.